Anthony Kyando has been living with HIV for over two decades. When the now 68-year-old man from Tanzania's Mbarali region began to experience a series of fevers in the 1990s, he never thought it could be due to the spread of the virus even though he was following reports on the disease on TV.
"I was particularly interested in the programs that discussed AIDS, its processes, and the educational and counseling programs provided. This experience then motivated me to take a test," he told DW.
But after taking that test, his life changed: the results came back positive in 1996.
Kyando said he didn't know what to do and where to turn to at first. Despite knowing a lot about how the virus works, he remembers blaming family members for his infection at the time, accusing his own siblings of bewitching him.
Eventually, he came close to giving up. "I had lost all hope of surviving since no ARV [antiretroviral] medications were available [at the time]," he said, adding that readjusting to a new life and to his new reality was quite difficult.
Antiretroviral medication changed Kyando's life
But treatment options soon changed, with antiretroviral medication becoming the primary approach. At first, however, Kyando hesitated to take antiretroviral therapy, as he wasn't familiar yet with the treatment; he said he had been exploring other means of remaining healthy to prolong his life.
"Just before the medicines finally arrived, I received some education on how to live with the disease. We were taught to use nutritious foods and medicines to strengthen our immunity, and protect ourselves," he said.
After eventually overcoming his doubts, Kyando encountered further hurdles: initially, the life-saving drugs weren't widely available or easy to afford, with treatment costing up to tens of thousands of US dollars annually.
But in the past quarter century production costs of antiretroviral medication have dropped significantly, and the World Health Organization and UNAIDS have rolled out numerous programs throughout Africa to deliver the drugs to even the remotest corners of the continent.
Access to antiretroviral therapy, meanwhile, has literally changed Kyando's life. "The medications are readily available in every ward," he said.
"If you forget to take your medication on the designated day, don't worry. You can take six months' worth of accumulated medication and repeat the process twice."
Using HIV status to become a community leader
Kyando has accepted that he will have to live with HIV for the rest of life, and has decided to use his HIV status for the greater good of his community. Working as the chairman of a nongovernmental organization committed to eradicating poverty, child abuse and the spread of HIV/AIDS, he has become an advocate helping to educate people on the realities of the disease.
In this capacity, Kyando has helped build a center in Mbarali called SHDEPHA+ which provides quick access to antiretroviral medication.
Above all, he believes in leading by example: Kyando never misses a dose of his medication, building up a strong immune system and even stronger determination to help end HIV/AIDS.
This also means, however, that he has to keep publicly revealing his HIV status all the time to truly connect with others facing similar challenges.
But opening up to others this way seems to have paid off, as Kyando highlights how his organization has assisted 8,623 women and 6,734 men living with HIV in the past year alone.
Leading by example
Kyando's success story is representative of Tanzania's progress in the fight against HIV in general. The East Afican nation is set to meet, if not exceed, UNAIDS targets aimed at ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Those targets mean having 95% of people living with HIV successfully diagnosed, with 95% of those diagnosed placed on antiretroviral therapy and 95% of those on the medication showing a suppressed or undetectable viral load.
By 2022, 83% of people living with HIV in Tanzania knew about their status, 95% of them had received treatment and 92% of people on treatment reported experiencing viral suppression.
Meanwhile, the government has set even higher HIV/AIDS targets for itself. Last year, it announced that it hoped to have zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2026 — four years before the global target date of 2030.
Kyando himself has praised Tanzania's educational efforts, not only in fighting HIV/AIDS stigma but also with limiting the spread of the disease.
Today, he lives happily with his wife, who also is HIV positive, and their two children, whose HIV status is negative.
They all remain optimistic about the future. Edited by: Sertan Sanderson / Isaac Kaledzi, VOA